Four games into conference play, the 2016 season was starting to look a lot like the 2015 season for the Owls.
After the Owls’ season opening loss to University of Louisville, then No. 16 in the Intercollegiate Women’s Lacrosse Coaches Association poll, the team won seven consecutive games, outscoring opponents 110-41. The streak was the team’s longest since 2002, when the Owls won the Atlantic-10 championship and made the NCAA tournament.
The Owls finished their nonconference schedule at 8-2, but found themselves at 1-3 after a 12-10 loss to Marquette University in their first fourth Big East game—the same conference record they had in the 2015 season when they missed out on the Big East tournament after a strong start.
“We knew after Marquette our situation was a little hairy,” All-Big East second team senior defender Summer Jaros said. “We obviously didn’t play our best game against Marquette, so afterwards we really knew we had to dig deep down to just make every game count. … All over the senior class there was no doubt in our minds that we could beat that team. We just had to come out and produce, and we did and it was an awesome feeling.”
After turning the ball over 21 times in a loss to Marquette University, the Owls won their final three regular season games to qualify for the Big East tournament as the No. 3 seed. Their spot in the tournament wasn’t clinched until the final game of the regular season.
With members of the 1984 and 1988 National Championship teams in attendance for Championship and Alumnae Day on April 30, the Owls’ final game against Georgetown University was a must-win.
When the final buzzer sounded, the players rushed the field to hug goalkeeper Jaqi Kakalecik. The seniors kissed the turf to commemorate their last game at Geasey Field. The team had made the Big East tournament for the first time in its three years in the league.
The Owls advanced to face No. 2 seed Connecticut in the semifinals. The team suffered an overtime defeat to the Huskies in the regular season and had lost three straight against UConn.
“It was awesome getting to the Big East tournament,” Jaros said. “We set a goal since the fall that we were going to get there. So it was a great Thursday night playing against UConn. Everyone was connecting well on the field. That was an awesome feeling, beating UConn who we haven’t beat yet and to do it in the semifinals of the Big East was awesome.”
Senior midfielder Kirstie Connor had a career-high five goals for the Owls in the victory and senior attacker Rachel Schwaab added five assists. The win gave Temple a chance to face No. 2 Florida, who beat the Owls by one goal in Temple’s first conference game.
The team was grateful for the chance to play for a Big East title and automatic berth to the NCAAttTournament.
“It’s just very exciting,” Schwaab, who earned Big East second-team honors, said. “I don’t think there was as much pressure going into that game. I think we all felt pretty calm. We were all just happy to be there.”
The Owls trailed by two goals at halftime, but the Gators outscored the Owls 12-2 in the second half to earn their third consecutive conference title and a first-round bye in the NCAA tournament.
Several players earned recognition for their individual accomplishments. Junior midfielder Morgan Glassford set a single-season record for draw controls, and earned first team all-Big East and all-tournament honors. Senior attacker Brenda McDermott finished second on the team in points and earned first team Big East first honors after only playing one game in 2015.
In addition to Jaros and Schwaab, Kakalecik and senior midfielder Nicole Tiernan earned Big East second team honors. The Owls’ defensive unit finished tied at No. 10 in Division I in scoring defense.
“I think it’s not really a surprise just with our chemistry on the field and that we’ve played four years together,” Schwaab said. “It’s amazing to get the individual recognition and I think just based on our season and the way we played together made it happen.”
Temple was not one of the 13 teams to earn an at-large bid at the selection show Sunday night. The Owls, picked to finish sixth in the Big East preseason poll, were one game away from making the NCAA tournament for the first time since the 2008 team won the Atlantic 10 Championship.
“This has been a magical season,” coach Bonnie Rosen said after her team’s loss to Florida on Saturday. “We started off strong, and really played a great non conference schedule and learned a lot. It’s been an amazing year. Our goal has been to get ourselves to our tournament, and we did that and more. We got ourselves to a championship game to see Florida again, and have a chance not only to win a championship, but to do it against one of the top ranked teams in the country right now. It’s hard right now to sit and let that sink in enough but we’ve accomplished a ton this year and I’ve never been more proud to coach a team.”
Evan Easterling can be reached at email@example.com or on Twitter @Evan_Easterling.